Chris Beardshaw, Great Pavilion, Ishihara Kazuyuki, RHS Chelsea Flower Show, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
I’ve focussed quite a bit on the design element and the show gardens in my previous Chelsea posts. In this, my final post about my visit I’d thought I’d share the plants that caught my attention and something of the atmosphere on press day.
The Great Pavilion is truly enormous. The flower marquees at both Malvern and Hampton Court shows are impressive but this place was like an aircraft hangar. If the focus on design outside isn’t your thing then the nursery stands inside the pavilion could certainly absorb you for a whole day. These are plants and flowers at their peak and prime; nurtured over previous months by their nervous growers in the hope that they will be ready in time. All sorts of techniques are employed to achieve the stunning displays and I’m impressed that with one of the coldest springs on record everything looked so remarkable. I could have done with more time to wander around the pavilion and feel I didn’t give many of the stands enough attention. Of those I did see, one of my favourites was the incredible J S Pennings De Bilt hyacinth stand, which I smelt before I even saw it. The perfume really was incredible even on such a cold day. I loved the National Collection of dahlias which showed perfectly the wide range of flowers and forms that are available. I particularly liked the single varieties, especially this ‘Twyning’s Revel’ with its dark stems and foliage and gorgeous pink flowers.
The display of alliums on the Warmenhoven stand were dramatic and theatrical and gave me a few ideas for containers of my own next year. The Hillier’s stand was incredible. The colour and sheer energy was impressive particularly on such a dull, overcast day, although there was nothing subtle about it. They transport nearly 3,500 plants to Chelsea to build their stand from birch trees so tall they almost scrape the top of the pavilion to the smallest of perennials.
I must mention the artisan garden designed by Ishihara Kazuyuki called ‘An Alcove’ or ‘Tokonoma’. The design recreated an area within a traditional Japanese tatami room, somewhere where meetings would take place with important people. Sometimes the gardens that evoke somewhere come in for stick with the accusation that they are a bit clichéd and not cutting edge. I loved it. I have always wanted to visit Japan but I’m not sure I’ll ever get there, so to see a part of their culture up close was a real treat. Mr Kazuyuki’s attention to detail is incredible – the cobbles, the moss, the acers, it was a delight and deservedly won ‘best in show’ in the artisan garden category.
For the 100th anniversary gnomes had been given special dispensation and were allowed access to the site. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed I didn’t see any. The two men wandering around in gnome costumes didn’t count in my opinion.
By lunch time the frantic buzz around the show gardens from the press photographers had waned, but as the celebrities who are invited arrived, flash bulbs started to go off once again. Spotting Ringo Starr and his wife, Bond Girl Barbara Bach, I attempted to subtly get a shot for Wellyman of his teenage crush. Barbara Bach of course, not Ringo. Unfortunately I was muscled out of the way by a much more experienced photographer and ended up with a shot of the back of their heads. I did manage to sneak on to Chris Beardshaw’s garden, behind Anneka Rice, when it was opened up for the celebrities to have a wander around. Not because I was particularly interested in her but it did mean I got a much better look at the garden and plants. Another of Wellyman’s crushes he’s rather gutted he wasn’t able to go.
Alcohol was flowing by the time I left, whether it was champagne, Pimms or Mark Diacono’s cocktails. If you were a member of the build team for the Trailfinders Australian garden I think it might have been flowing a little earlier. I was stood next to one of them at 9.30am and he already had a pint of something in his hand. They were all dressed in matching outfits which meant they looked like they were all on a stag do. I can only imagine what their celebrations were like the following day when they found out they had won gold and ‘best in show’. I, on the other hand, was a bit like the rabbit in the advert that didn’t get the Duracell batteries. After only two hours sleep the night before my energy levels were running low by about 2pm and I didn’t think it was wise to partake myself. I would have loved another trip around the Great Pavilion, but my legs wouldn’t take me any further and, with a long drive back to Wales, I wandered out of the show ground just as the police arrived to secure the area for the arrival of the Queen.
I loved my first visit to Chelsea. There are elements of it that are elitist and out of touch with how most of us live and garden. I’d like to see more variety in the designs, more edibles and grow your own on display but it’s good to have something that’s glamorous, exciting and inspiring every once in a while. And, ultimately, Chelsea Flower Show is a great showcase for horticulture.
Great review again WW, mine will be up in a day or so, I need to get my thoughts together before I post. Christina
Love that Mark Quinn sculpture – would look rather pretty here in the garden at The Sparrowholding!
I loved it too. Although I know it wasn’t universally liked.
Lovely to hear your views on Chelsea, especially this one about the great marquee and its wonderful plants. Dahlia Twynings Revel can come and live here any time it likes! I know from past experience that my days of visiting the likes of Chelsea are over, so it is wonderful seeing it through your eyes, thank you.
Thanks Pauline. It was a tiring day but I loved it and hope I get to visit again. I’ll spend more time int he marquee next time.
What a great review, I’ve just read through your other posts too. I think the Great Pavillion would be the place I headed for if I visited Chelsea, such stunning displays, and as you say, the conditions have been so tough this year yet the plants are still perfect. It takes true dedication to produce such fantastic arrangements. I’m pleased you enjoyed your day.
Thanks Jo. I thought I’d ‘done’ the great pavilion but having watched the TV coverage I missed so much. If I get to go again I will definitely spend more time in there. Everyone works so hard to put on the show. It must be such hard work.
I enjoyed reading this post too – thanks for all of them!
Thanks Cathy. I’m really pleased you enjoyed them.
Next year it would be nice to come along with you to get the celeb pap shots…. 🙂
I really enjoyed all of your Chelsea posts. Thanks for bringing it to life so well.
Thank you. I’m pleased you enjoyed. 🙂
I suspect the Great Pavilion alone would take two days to really absorb, the whole thing seems exhausting to me, but it was lovely to see it through your eyes, so thank you.
Thanks Janet. It was annoying to keep seeing stands on TV that I hadn’t got around to on the day. I was so exhausted though I was just pleased I managed to keep going for as long as I did. At 5am after only 2 hours sleep it was very tempting to stay in bed. 😉
Thank you for your great posts on your Chelsea visit – I have really enjoyed reading them. I also expected more gnomes! We did find 2 of the real thing hiding in a miniature garden pod, but that was all.
Thanks Julie. You’d have thought from the fuss that was made about them that they would have been a bit more visible. Although it was so cold on the Monday maybe they were all off having a warm cup of something indoors somewhere. ;
Claire D said:
The Great Pavilion is fabulous, it brought tears to my eyes to see such beautiful plants and flowers and so much happiness and enthusiasm brought together under one roof. The atmosphere in the whole show is great thanks to the exhibitors but also the ordinary gardeners visiting who are so friendly and willing to chat and smile. I found it all a bit ‘concept-dense’ by the end of the show gardens and found the Mark Quinn garden you have photographed to be actively unpleasant but I will be still be going next year!
Hi Claire, Glad you had a lovely visit. I agree the atmosphere is lovely, everyone united by their love of plants. It must be such hard work to get everything together for the show and the exhibitors are still there today dismantling the stands. I imagine many are saying never again at the moment but it won’t be long before the bug kicks in again. I imagine there is something quite addictive about showing at Chelsea.
I think that this post sums up what many of us think of Chelsea.
All the fuss made about gnomes, and indeed celebrities, was rather tiresome.
On my last visit I spent most of the time in the Grand Pavilion. At the end of the day it’s certainly somewhere all gardeners should visit.
Thanks for these excellent posts. xx
Thanks Flighty. I loved how everyone there had a common passion for plants.
Really enjoyed your posts on Chelsea. Would love to go someday especially into the Pavillion. What about you doing a design yourself & entering, that way Pianolearner can get into the show with you especially if you incorporate his thoughts from his post.
Thank you. 🙂 Would be fun but incredibly stressful to design a garden there. This year working on the book has given me a taste of the stresses the weather can bring and how there is so much more involved than you ever imagine at the beginning. There’s also the small issue of sponsorship. Some of the gardens cost hundreds of thousands to build. Maybe one day. 😉
I thoroughly enjoyed all your Chelsea posts WW. I still remember the magic my first visit which was back in the dim and distant ’80s, when Beth Chatto was still exhibiting her wonderful plants. It must have been excitement that made it difficult for you to get to sleep the night before 🙂
Thank you Anna. Think it might have been too much cheese for dinner that night that kept me awake. 😉 It was exciting to see Chelsea after seeing it so many times on the TV. How amazing to have seen Beth Chatto’s stand.